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Alcohol's Community Consequences

Wednesday, September 30, 2015  
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Steve Kohrman-Chairman, Indiana Association of Beverage RetailersMessage from IABR Chairman Steve Kohrman It’s easily abused. It’s addictive. It kills people. And we sell it. So do grocery stores, drug stores, gas stations and thousands of more businesses and venues in Indiana. In the Indiana Statehouse, we’re now at the potential intersection of Deregulation Boulevard and Lack of Control Cul-de -sac for this dangerous product known as alcohol. According to a mysterious consumer base that cannot be quantified except through Facebook and media headlines, alcohol should now be available ALL the time.


Especially on Sundays.

Here’s the latest prompt from “Hoosiers” (which are really out-of-state corporations) promoting Sunday alcohol sales — which was emailed to its base of Facebook friends the opening day of the 2015 session:  “2015 is going to be an exciting year, Shit. The Indiana General Assembly gavels into session today, and with your help, we can finally end the unnecessary ban on Sunday Sales in Indiana.” We’ve seen reporters argue with their readers to push Sunday sales. We’ve seen more erroneous facts published than could fill an overwrought TMZ blog. And the deal whispers are enough to get talk-caustic radio hosts free cocktails from supporters through spring until the legislature adjourns.


Enough already.

Reasonable people can agree to disagree, but myths need to be separated from facts. For most of us in the package store industry, managing liquor stores has come with a stringent and specific set of state laws that we’ve agreed to abide by and live under. To operate a liquor store requires one to stick to many rules — from how you train and hire employees to where you reside. By state law, we must be Indiana residents. So there is no out-of-state ownership for a package store permit holder. We can only sell 10 limited commodities — by law. No milk or ketchup. We’re not complaining. We just understand our decades-old regulatory landscape and how the state wants us to operate in our communities across Indiana. And we live within that limited structure. While a Walmart Super Center can easily sell alcohol in Indiana without similar restrictions, we can’t easily turn a package story into a super center. When we say Sunday sales can have consequences for Indiana businesses, we mean it. I own two small liquor stores.  Just two. It is my business and was my father’s business. By the Indiana State Chamber saying it supports Sunday sales, it also means the chamber favors Big Box stores and cultivating Hoosier fields into concrete launching pads for Walmart. With national chain Kroger, a lead proponent of Sunday sales, on the chamber’s bloated board — we understand how that came to pass. Yet, here’s what is missing from the conversation. College students can consume enough hard liquor in one sitting to die from alcohol poisoning — and they have in Indiana. People have become so intoxicated at major sporting events that intoxicated drivers have killed people after NFL games (failing to sober up as most people think they can) — and that has happened in Indiana. A police officer was convicted of reckless homicide for mowing through other motorists while intoxicated — again a documented case in Indiana. This is a sober reminder that these are real events in Indiana, some resulting in lawsuits and appeals, but most resulting in tragedies and lives changed forever. Excess is a personal choice, true enough. But community safety isn’t. That’s up to lawmakers to decide and hopefully choose wisely. They can determine if people should have alcohol available any day of the week, at any hour and without any control or restraints — even lower the drinking age or remove liability from adults who serve or provide alcohol to minors. We don’t think it will happen. But Sunday alcohol sales may just be the first step.

Don’t believe us? Here’s real evidence from experts:

States with strong alcohol regulations have lower rates of binge drinking according to a first-of-its kind study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Specifically, states with strong policies had only one-fourth the likelihood of having binge drinking rates that fell in the top 25 percent of states, even after accounting for other environmental factors. “If alcohol policies were a newly discovered gene, pill or vaccine, we’d be investing billions of dollars to bring them to market,” said Dr. Timothy Naimi, senior author of the study and associate professor of medicine and community health sciences and an attending physician at Boston Medical Center.


States with a higher number of alcohol and traffic-related laws have a lower proportion of traffic deaths than do states with fewer such laws on the books. “Lagging behind in adopting the full range of the laws is not a theoretical concern. More people are dying as a result,” said Diana Silver, an assistant professor in the department of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. The study examined 27 types of laws, including child restraint laws, beer taxes, and mandatory fines for DUI violations across all 50 states.


Indiana continues to be one of the least healthy states, ranking 41st out of 50 states according to the United Health Foundation’s annual study, which also measures binge drinking. Indiana had the same ranking as last year. The Centers for Disease Control also reported that excessive alcohol consumption has a substantial, but largely under-recognized, economic impact on all states in the U.S., suggesting one of the community-based solutions is to limit alcohol outlet density.


At least 14 studies have found that the more young people are exposed to alcohol advertising and marketing, the more likely they are to drink, or if they are already drinking, to drink more. Researchers at the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examined nearly 1,800 different ads for beer, spirits and alcopops (from 2008 to 2010). "Considering advertising's demonstrated power to shape behavior, it's important that the public health community be knowledgeable about alcohol advertising content, particularly when it reaches underage audiences," said study author Katherine C. Smith, associate professor with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.


A RAND economist says enacting of expanding the hours of Sunday liquor sales increases crime. Economist Paul Heaton took a look at neighborhoods in Virginia where Sunday sales were enacted and analyzed changes in crime rates. “This paper provides some of the first convincing evidence that expansion of Sunday alcohol sales can increase crime, demonstrating that the introduction of Sunday packaged liquor sales in selected jurisdictions in Virginia increased low-level property/public order crime by 5 percent and alcohol-involved serious crime by 10 percent,” Heaton wrote. And whatever extra money Virginia took in on added taxes was offset by the cost of dealing with crime. “The costs of this additional crime are comparable to the state's revenues from increased liquor sales."


Expanding alcohol sales to weekends causes widespread harm and causes people to drink more, a National Institutes of Health survey shows. Researchers looked at 14 studies in detail and came to a unified conclusion. “This review found that increasing days of sale by allowing previously banned alcohol sales on either Saturdays or Sundays increased excessive alcohol consumption and related harms, including motor vehicle crashes, incidents of DUI, police interventions against intoxicated people, and, in some cases, assaults and domestic disturbances,”  the authors wrote. “Thus, maintaining existing limits on Saturday or Sunday sales — the control condition in these studies — can prevent alcohol-related harms that would be associated with increased days of sale.”


Any neighborhood, regardless of income levels or racial makeup, suffers when there are more liquor outlets than less. Even when levels of poverty and the age and the ethnic background of residents are taken into account, a high density of outlets is strongly related to violence regardless of a neighborhood’s economic, ethnic or age status,” wrote alcohol policy researcher Kathryn Stewart. “In each case, some form of increased violence would be expected as compared to comparable areas with fewer alcohol outlets.”


And lastly, the state’s own independent and non-partisan agency that does numbers crunching, says again this year that expanding Sunday sales will have no impact on state revenues — unlike the big bucks lies being told by the Big Box claims of mega millions and oft repeated by press. It's a public document. We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but someone has to act like a grown-up when it comes to alcohol — a regulated product, a potentially dangerous product, and a product that can have disastrous consequences for your family, your school, your community and your state. The community consequences of alcohol are real.

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